Last month marks one year since I enrolled in the Museum Studies program, and in almost every class I have taken we have discussed the subject of collection digitization. This is (generally) the practice of photographing the collection objects, and putting them online to be accessible to audiences around the world. While the practice sounds easy enough, and one can think of many positives of increased access, there are many hurdles that must be surpassed for a museum to even think about starting the process of digitizing a collection.
The reason this subject came to mind this week is because I came across this article from Hyperallergic concerning the Museum of Modern Art digitizing more than 3,500 exhibition archives. Available on public domain GitHub the museum has provided access to “Primary documents such as press releases, annotated image checklists, installation shots, and even entire catalogs…”. From the founding of the museum in 1929 all the way through present day, this initiative is quite impressive and I am sure will prove to be a great resource.
At the opening of this post, I detailed that I believed digitization to be the practice of photographing the collection objects and increasing access to them online. But, MoMA has provided access to archives that provide all different types of information in forms other than images, and important pieces of the collection that aren’t necessarily objects. This is a subject that we have not covered in class, and a practice that I think if widely implemented, could be invaluable to other museums. While it is interesting to have access to MoMA exhibition catalogs from the 1930s and 1940s, to have access to planning documents could help other institutions learn from their mistakes and successes.
So, this brings me understand that there are benefits to digitization that go beyond the sharing of collection images, and reach further than external audiences. Museum staff can benefit from the digitization and sharing of the millions of documents that support the end product that is the exhibition. Because, as we know, there is so much more that goes into exhibitions than what ends up in the gallery spaces.
I have seen other museums joining MoMA in this practice, such as the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Starting about two years ago, they have uploaded a Digital Strategy Repository to GitHub, and are continuing to update it as their practices, and technology, changes. I lived in Pittsburgh for 4 years during my undergraduate studies, and the Warhol was always one of my favorite museums. The then-director Eric Shiner was innovative and truly a visionary, leading amazing change in the institution.
While promising and exciting, archival and internal digitization has not been as quick or as widespread as the digitization of museum collections. The Google Art and Culture Project has made huge strides in digitizing museum collections all over the world, partnering with more than 1,100 institutions to produce images and museum tours. They even have an app! I will leave you with this short video demonstrating the beauty and detail that this program provides:
And of course, all of this digitization can be easily and successfully shared by social media managers in museums around the world.